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When exile looms – showcasing Alison Morton’s latest

Some weeks ago, I was more than happy to have Alison visit this blog with a guest post related to her latest release, Exsilium. Today, I am delighted to welcome her back as part of her Coffee Pot Book Club blog tour with an excerpt.

Exsilium is a foundation story for Alison’s fab Roma Nova story. Where the Roma Nova books are mostly set in our time, Exsilium goes right back to the roots, depicting the events that led to the colony of Roma Nova. Exsilium is the point at which Alison’s world building begins to diverge from history as we know it. Always somewhat fascinating, the notion of going back to a defined point in history and recreate an alternative take on things, isn’t it? Enough about that – onwards towards the book!

Exile – Living death to a Roman

AD 395. In a Christian Roman Empire, the penalty for holding true to the traditional gods is execution.

Maelia Mitela, her dead husband condemned as a pagan traitor, leaving her on the brink of ruin, grieves for her son lost to the Christians and is fearful of committing to another man.

Lucius Apulius, ex-military tribune, faithful to the old gods and fixed on his memories of his wife Julia’s homeland of Noricum, will risk everything to protect his children’s future.

Galla Apulia, loyal to her father and only too aware of not being the desired son, is desperate to escape Rome after the humiliation of betrayal by her feckless husband.

For all of them, the only way to survive is exile.

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AD 383 Senator Lucius Apulius is spending time at his seaside villa with his young daughters.

 The last weekend of September, I had snatched four days away from business in Rome. I stretched out on the beach the day after I arrived. I was tired after a hard ride that had followed a difficult week. I closed my eyes and dozed off under the warm sun.

‘Sir?’ I opened my eyes and blinked, then sat up. Sand fell off me. Those girls! I heard giggles and glanced over. More giggles ensued, then clouds of sand flew into the air as those imps scampered away. I couldn’t help smiling as they ran off. Then I turned and saw Otacilius and Anatolius standing over me. Their faces showed not a shadow of humour. I shook my head to release the sand from my hair.

‘Apologies for interrupting you, domine, we need to show you something.’ Otacilius’s voice was controlled as it always was, but his words were spoken with more intensity than usual.

‘Very well.’ I stood and continued brushing my tunic.

‘I will stay with the young dominae,’ Anatolius said and turned towards the water’s edge where the girls were paddling and flicking seawater and each other. Odd that he felt he needed to do that as we were only fifty feet from the house. Still, I knew he was devoted to Maelia so perhaps guarding her child was instinctive.

Otacilius and I walked back to the house, he hurrying and saying nothing, me wondering what in Hades could be so urgent. He led the way past the small stable block, now empty of our mules as they’d been turned out to graze first thing. At the entrance, set back about twenty feet from the street, he pushed open the iron gate and beckoned me onto the gravelled road. The acrid, metallic smell of blood hit me. The children’s dog, jokingly called Cerberus – he was the most docile, almost cowardly creature – lay completely still. Blood seeped from under his jaw. His throat had been cut. I couldn’t move as I stared down at the inert form. My fists clenched. I knelt on the ground next to Cerberus and felt for his heart, but his chest was completely still. Who had slaughtered such a harmless creature? The girls would be heartbroken.

‘There is more, domine.’ He pointed to the gate itself. I stood, but stepped back, horrified. Words that even Gaius would hesitate to use when he was about to dispatch an enemy mid-battle were daubed across the surface. They were unambiguous about what the writer would do to ‘pagans’ who polluted this house and town. At the end was the unmistakable Christos sign. How on earth could people write this where children could see?

‘It must be a madman,’ Otacilius said. ‘Most of the Galileans I’ve met are gentle, pious people. Too serious and sometimes self-satisfied, but never violent.’

‘Really?’ I snapped. ‘Remember what Theodosius did in Thessalonica? All those people he had slaughtered. I know he was supposed to have atoned for it, according to the Christos followers, but others say it was a fabricated story to smooth over political relations with the bishops.’ I flicked my fingers abruptly. ‘I shall report this to the chief decurion. Send a message for him to attend me immediately.’ I wiped my hand on the grass growing by the wall. The children must not see the blood.

‘I will have this obscenity scrubbed immediately,’ Otacilius said.

‘No, leave it. I want the decurion to see it. But do not on any account allow the girls to go anyway near it. Fetch me an old blanket – I will deal with Cerberus myself.’


‘Senator, this is the most dreadful occurrence.’ The chief decurion stood with me by the front gate. He seemed mesmerised by the disgusting graffiti. ‘I can only apologise on the town’s behalf.’ His fingers fiddled with the edge of his lavishly embroidered tunic. ‘I will initiate enquiries immediately. Such an insult to your family is unforgivable.’

‘Indeed, decurion. The happy memories of my own childhood here are now blighted. What my grandmother would have said, I leave to your imagination.’

‘Ah, Lady Aemilia. When I was a child, she always had a kind word for the village children and made sure each of us had a wonderful Saturnalia gift – not just a little statue or a candle, but good toys or a new tunic.’

I was sure he was about to wander off into further memories, so I had to bring him back to the present.

‘You know the people here well,’ I continued. ‘Do you have any idea who would have done this?’

He threw his hands up in an open gesture.

‘I cannot imagine. It must be somebody who has been visited by an evil spirit or demon. Perhaps we should ask the priest if he knows of such a person.’

‘A Christos priest, do you mean? Surely you are not suggesting such a course of action. He would instantly protect his own follower!’

‘No, no, of course not, senator. But it might be a good idea to find out from him if any of his congregation is a little disturbed.’

‘Will he be honest?’

‘I believe he would be as he would be equally anxious that none of his flock would act so cruelly. But…’


‘Many of the townspeople do follow the Christos.’ He looked away. ‘They are enthusiastic at saving the souls of people who have not yet understood his message.’

‘Enthusiastic, eh?’

‘But not the sort to carry out such an insult.’

‘And you, decurion?’

‘To hold a position in the imperial bureaucracy these days, it is necessary to show that you follow the Lord Christos.’ His face became a shade redder and he looked away. ‘I’m sure you understand, senator.’

‘Yes, only too well.’

Author Bio: Alison Morton writes award-winning thrillers featuring tough but compassionate heroines. Her ten-book Roma Nova series is set in an imaginary European country where a remnant of the Roman Empire has survived into the 21st century and is ruled by women who face conspiracy, revolution and heartache but use a sharp line in dialogue. The latest, EXSILIUM, plunges us back to the late 4th century, to the very foundation of Roma Nova.

She blends her fascination for Ancient Rome with six years’ military service and a life of reading crime, historical and thriller fiction. On the way, she collected a BA in modern languages and an MA in history.

Alison now lives in Poitou in France, the home of Mélisende, the heroine of her two contemporary thrillers, Double Identity and Double Pursuit.

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